Throughout my life I have reflected on the decisions and courses that I have taken and would wish I could go back and have a do-over, much like you can do in some computer games (just go back to this point and try again). I think that desire exists in all of us to a greater or lesser degree. We all wish we had the chance to start over at some point in our lives. I believe that lies at the root of the Eastern reincarnation scenario, which you could say is the religion of do-overs.
One of the most beloved movies of the Christmas season, It’s A Wonderful Life is built around an analog of this premise. Whether or not you need a do-over is greatly dependent on what would have happened if you hadn’t done what you did. There is a fundamental question within that desire to change what happened: would anything have been better if only I hadn’t done that? The foundation of the movie is never actually addressed openly, but the whole story turns on the efficacy of Providence, of God working in the background to bring about the best possible result, that despite how things may look at the moment, everything needed to be the way it was and you have arrived at this moment by your choices and God’s direction and it is right where you need to be and everything else needed you to be.
But our human nature doesn’t see it that way, which is why do-over scenarios are so popular in stories and plot lines and to a degree, advertising. A more recent version of the same scenario is addressed in the movie The Butterfly Effect. Ashton Kutcher has the ability to go back to a given point in time and have a do-over, to change what happens at a critical moment in his past. However, what he learns is that no matter how many times he does that, no matter how many changes he makes, he can’t make things turn out the way he wants. The do-overs don’t work like he expects and each new scenario only compounds his misery. He does not have the control he thought he did.
Advertising has tapped into our desire to have do-overs. Just use our product or try our new miracle <insert your choice here> and you can fix whatever is wrong and be the better you. Hey everyone will now see you in a new light. You can (unspoken though it is) shed the past and be the new you. You can have a do-over.
Christianity doesn’t offer do-overs. It offers exactly the opposite. It expects you to take full responsibility for everything that you did, every decision, every act or failure to act, for it all. It offers no escape (more on that later). Instead it expects you to accept the reality of the heavy load, but then an interesting thing happens; once that load is accepted you find out something wonderful, God forgives you for all those failures through his Son, who accepts in himself the outcome for what you did and He gives you a clean slate to face the next moment. It doesn’t change anything in this world. You don’t get back the health you may have destroyed or the relationships you have trashed (though on rare occasions you might) but you get something more important that do-overs don’t offer. Even if you could go back to a specific moment, like the Austin Kutcher character, and do it differently, not say that hurtful thing or accept that proposition or steal that money (or whatever), you would still carry forward the original failure, the original choice, on your soul. You may in some Eastern karmic way feel you have balanced out the bad with a new good, but the bad is still there, weighing down your soul. You are never completely free of the original problem/decision/action/choice. It is indelibly etched into your soul.
Christianity, however, deals with the original moment and frees your soul of the blot, removes the etching. And, the best part about this is that it is not one-time occurrence. As often as you need it, the same opportunity exists. Forgiveness is always there. You can have a new beginning any time you are willing to get down on your knees and confess your failures and sins to God.
That is what do-overs are really trying to accomplish. They are trying to get rid of the blot but they want to do it without the necessity of forgiveness. Forgiveness removes the need for needing a do-over and says, as Jesus said to the adulterous woman dragged before him, “You are forgiven. Don’t do it again.” You are offered a new beginning, free of the blot on you soul. All you have to do is accept responsibility for what you did, ask God to forgive you, and go forward without making the same choice again. However, you have to admit, like the Publican beating his breast in Jesus parable, that you are a sinner and ask for forgiveness. Do that and you get up from your knees with a new beginning and that new beginning is waiting for you whenever you need it, as many times as you need it.
There is one thing that needs to be emphasized, however: there is no escape from what you did and the expectation that you will do your best not to do it again. Christian new beginnings are built on repentance (accepting responsibility for what you did) and metanoia (changing your life going forward so that you don’t continue to do the same thing). No matter what some in the Church today may say or espouse, those two requirements are non-negotiable. They are fundamental to everything God has done and is doing in the lives of his children. Never forget that or shy away from it. It is your salvation, your hope for a new beginning.
May God bless your day and may you have all the new beginnings in Christ Jesus, our Lord, that you will ever need.
As much as I am mindful of Rom 1:16-17, I must acknowledge that some of my Buddhist and atheist relatives just don’t “get it.” The former attribute the Lord’s blessings to good merit in my previous incarnations. The latter looks forward to their escape — by annihilation, presumably — when they need not worry or be envious of God’s favour. In either case, wishing they could see it from another perspective doesn’t help. However, …
addresses just that dilemma! Theology again shows the way out of the maze. Now, in their worldviews, the “all you have to do is…” part simply doesn’t make sense to them. This is, clearly, the unavoidable offense of the Gospel, isn’t it? there’s nothing else we can “do” to be reconciled for the blot.
Welcome back, Brother Meisheid!
Christianity really is unique in leaving the majority of the responsibility for our actions upon ourselves – we can’t say ‘the devil made me do it’. Other faiths, and newer incarnations of Christianity, deny this responsibility, which really robs our faith of its beauty and power to change. Our God requires that we admit our sins and failings before His complete holiness – and once we do that, He forgives us, forgets it, and gathers us into His arms for loving instruction and correction! I mean…what the heck?
It is so amazing, so heart-rendingly beautiful…I think the reason newer versions of our faith don’t have a hold on people is because they neglect or deny this truth. What’s to love and be afraid of and respectful and grateful to a god who requires nothing of us?